Smart Home Tech for Apartments – A Complete Guide
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Just because you are renting an apartment doesn’t mean you can’t add some smart tech to your home. Although some devices might be off limits due to constraints that come with renting, there are still options.
While wiring in that new smart thermostat or video doorbell may not be an option for you, there are many plug and play type devices you can still take advantage of. Let’s just say smart plugs and smart bulbs are going to be your best friend.
As renters, we are restricted a bit. Hard-wiring anything in is usually going to be a no-no. If you are renting from an actual person instead of a corporation, you may have some wiggle room there.
If you are renting from a landlord and not a huge company, you may even be able to request certain smart devices. They want to make there units as attractive as possible and that includes offering the latest and greatest smart tech.
Smart technology, home automation and an easier more efficient lifestyle are not out of reach. Those of us who are currently renting have smart options too. They may be slightly limited, but they are there!
What is Allowed at Your Apartment?
Before diving in, make sure to check in with your landlord to see what they are ok with you adding. Most of the devices will be talking about here won’t be an issue but if you were really hoping to add that smart thermostat, you should probably ask the owner for permission.
For me, that was a firm no. I live in one of those mega 300 unit apartment buildings that’s owned by another company. Rules are rules her. But if you are renting from an actual person, you may be able to get the permission needed to take your smart home to the next level.
You never know unless you ask, right?
One thing to keep in mind is anything wired into the home is going to be a little harder to take when you leave. I honestly don’t recommend it. There are plenty of other devices the smarten up your rental that won’t be such a headache.
What to Look for in Devices for your Apartment?
Homeowners definitely have much more freedom on what they want to bring home. Us renters, not so much.
As I stated above, you are always going to want to check if the device needs to be hard-wired. This just is not an option for the majority of us. Devices like video doorbells, thermostats and some cameras will require more than just an outlet. Make sure you are keeping an eye out for it.
You are going to want to make sure everything you bring into the apartment is easy to move. The fewer wires, the better. As renters, it is inevitable that we will move at some point in time. Make that move much easier by having portable and easy to set up smart devices.
This one is not as important, but still kind of important. Make sure the devices you run with are compatible with each other as much as possible. Although managing your smart home from one app is not a necessity, it sure makes it a whole lot easier.
If you prefer Google, Alexa or Homekit, be sure the devices you are getting speak to that assistant. Having voice control of your home is one of the perks of having a connected home. If that seems odd to you, don’t worry, you will come to love it with time.
Think Long Term
Who here wants to rent forever? I think it is safe to say most of us would like to purchase our own house at some point in time. With that being said, be sure to think about the future with the smart products you are investing in.
What I mean by that is try not to throw money away by purchasing knock-off products that won’t last. Name brands usually mean higher quality and a longer life span.
The good thing here is that just about every device recommended below will fit nicely into your future home. Let’s just try to make sure it lasts long enough to see it!
Save Some Money and Energy
Since we are saving that down payment up for that future home of ours, why not try to add some money saving features to our smart home?
A lot of devices also have energy monitoring features. That means they keep an eye on the amount of every consumed and even provide reports.
For example, let’s say you have the living room lamp attached to a smart plug and that plug has the energy monitoring feature. You will be able to monitor how much electricity that lamp is using and cut down the consumption rate.
Now we aren’t talking about huge heaps of savings here, but everything helps, right?
Hub or no Hub
The hub is considered by many to be the brains of the smart home. What a hub does is allows all of your smart devices to talk to each other and also allows you to control them all from one app.
A hub will be able to talk to Z-wave, Zigbee and Wi-Fi devices. They also reduce strain on your wireless network. With purely Wi-Fi smart devices in your smart home, your wireless network will bear the brunt of it. The more devices connected, the more strain. A hub helps reduce that.
Some devices come with their own hub already, like the Phillips Hue. There is no way around that at the time.
Having a hub will also be an added expense. Samsung’s SmartThings3, one of the top hubs on the market right now, will set you back between $60 and $120. Check out our article on some of our favorite devices that work with SmartThings.
So, to get a hub or not. That is really up to you to decide. If you don’t mind managing your smart devices from different apps, then skip the hub for now.
If you are more interested in the efficiency and ease of managing everything from one app, invest in a hub. Long term it may work out better in your favor and will save your wireless internet from the strain of multiple devices now.
Devices Every Renter Will be Able to Add Now
These are the most popular and easiest devices to build your smart apartment with. None of these require any drilling, wiring or additional holes. You can have a smart home pretty easily and still retain that security deposit as we won’t have to tear the apartment up to add any of this.
Lets jump into it.
Every smart home will need a voice assistant so you can take advantage of voice commands. The two big dogs in the arena are Google Home Assistant and Amazon Alexa. Basically, you tell the assistant what to do and it tells the device.
Homekit, Apples dog in the fight is catching up but still doesn’t offer the same type of compatibility as Google and Alexa. I am team Apple an am really hoping they can catch up.
For Example: If you ask “Alexa, turn off the kitchen lights,” Alexa will tell the lights to turn off.
Ask for weather updates, movie times, calendar updates etc.
As of right now, Alexa does seem to offer more compatibility with smart home devices. The smart industry is quick moving, though, and that may not be the case six months from now. As you are just starting your smart home journey, most of the devices you first bring home will be compatible with both platforms.
Both are suitable for building your smart home, but since Google basically owns the internet, Google Home will be able to answer those more obscure questions a lot better.
Alexa does have more ‘skills’ available, those add on capabilities that allow it to speak do a bit more. Google has ‘actions’, that are very similar to ‘skills’ but there just aren’t as many at the moment. Again, that could change very quickly down the road.
The Echo Show and Echo Plus are also both compatible with Zigbee devices. These Amazon devices basically work as the hub for Zigbee enabled devices.
So, if you want an assistant that is more likely to answer those random questions you may have, check out Google. If you want that integration with Amazon and access to more skills now, try out Alexa.
You really can’t go wrong right now. Maybe try them both to see what is the better fit for your home.
Smart Plugs and Power Strips
This might be the easiest and quickest way to automate your home. A smart plug is a device that allows you to remotely control any appliance or light that is plugged into it. Installation is as simple as connecting it to your wi-fi or hub (if you have one), connect it to its app and plugging it into the wall.
Check out the article we wrote on if smart plugs are safe here.
A smart power strip works the same as the singular plug, there is just more of them. These are great for entertainment centers that allow you to control everything there.
Using a smart plug or outlet on your tv set will also help you save some money. Most of the electronics in your entertainment center will draw power even when they are off. This is what allows you to turn them on whenever you need. Check out this chart to see just how much energy some of the most used electronics are consuming when off.
With smart plugs, you will also have an app. Admittedly some are better than others. You can also get features like scheduling, location, energy monitoring and away mode.
For anyone dipping their toes into a smart home, smart plugs are a really great place to start. Here are some of our recommended smart plugs!
Smart Bulbs and Light Strips
Smart bulbs take your home to the next level. They are LED bulbs that allow you to control your lighting through your phone or with your voice. They even give you the ability to choose the color of light they emit and give you the ability to dim the lights too.
Installation of a smart bulb is pretty simple too. Connect the bulb to the wi-fi or hub (if it came with one like Phillips Hue or you have your own) and replace your old bulb with the smart bulb. Add the bulb to the app and enjoy all the new control you now have.
Smart strips are those lights you see behind tv’s or couches that illuminate cool colors. These change the entire aesthetic of your home and are controlled just like your smart bulbs.
You can control these bulbs from anywhere, as long as you have an internet connection. You have the ability to set schedules, away mode and even add in some location automation.
Set your smart bulbs to turn off when your phone is a certain distance away from home and to turn on when you are on the way home.
Another great benefit of smart bulbs is lifespan. These bulbs will last over 25,000 hours on average. They can be a little expensive, but the lifespan really makes up for that. You can find our recommended smart bulbs here.
Cameras have come a long way. They no longer require being wired into a much larger security system. Now, the cameras are much smaller and can easily sit on a counter or shelf and allow you to keep an eye on things when you are not home.
Smart cameras can be either battery powered or plugin. Some will even let you have conversations with built-in speakers and microphones.
There are some caveats with some self monitoring camera systems. They are not all free, in fact the more popular brands do require a monthly fee for storing footage. Although it is not a huge fee, it is still an added expense.
Check out our article on the 12 best security systems that do not require a monthly fee.
You will want to keep an eye out for a few things:
- Video quality
- Night vision
- Field of vision
- Tilting and panning capable
- Monthly service fees
- Storage options
- Power source
Like all other smart devices, you will be able to control or check the cameras from your app. Get notifications if the camera picks up movement. This may get tricky if you have a fur baby wondering around at home while you are at work.
These will also be a great thing to have when you do upgrade to home ownership. Protect your home now and protect that big investment later.
Alexa and Google are both essentially speakers but you can take your audio to the next level. Both offer a bunch of different smart audio systems that also work with your assistant of choice.
Bose and Sonos offer smart speakers with Alexa built-in. JBL offers speakers with Google built-in. If that doesn’t meet your needs, you can always connect your assistant of choice to the speaker you really want.
The great thing about these speakers is they can usually be synced so you can enjoy music room to room. I mean, your renting so there probably won’t be to many rooms that need linking but still a cool feature.
Smart speakers will usually come with an accompanying app to for full control. Add music streaming services to play your favorite music by simply asking your assistant to play.
Add Alexa or Google to your tv surround sound. Sound bars are coming with assistants built right into them as well.
Now, if you do decide you have to have Bose, it will cost you a bit more. Bose is top of the line for a reason, they make a great product. But you do not have to break the bank. Sonos has some pretty good sounding speakers as well.
If you are team Apple, the Homepod is a great speaker with Siri built-in. If you are all about Homekit, this is the speaker for you.
With any audio you bring into your apartment, remember to be courteous of your neighbors. Or don’t, I know my neighbors aren’t.
You can use sensors in a number of ways on your smart home. The first and most popular is security. These sensors are placed on exterior windows and doors. When one is opened unexpectedly, you are alerted in real time.
As windows and doors are usually how intruders get into your home, this is an obvious place to add some extra security outside of simple locking them. If you are in an apartment on the first floor, sensors are a great way to increase your peace of mind while away from home.
Sensors do not require any wiring either so they are great for us renters. They will usually have a strong adhesive to secure them in place. They are two-part, one of which adheres to the frame and the other to the actual door or window.
Security is not the only use for sensors on the apartment. These can also be added to routines in your smart home. For example, if you have a sensor on your front door, that sensor can trigger your smart lights to turn on when you come home.
Or you can throw a sensor in your pantry door so that when you open the door a light automatically turns out. There really are so many options, time to get creative.
You wont’t be able to set routines up without a hub or taking advantage of IFTTT or similar services. Not all smart home devices ‘speak’ to each other and in order for these routines to actually work, there needs to be some communication.
As any rewiring is pretty much off the table, smart light switches are out the door. In my apartment, I have overhead lights that are built in and take these crazy unique bulbs that I can’t even explain. Finding smart bulbs to fit these lights probably isn’t even possible.
These lights are in my kitchen and dining area and makeup half the lights in my main living area. These would be hopeless if it weren’t for smart switch plates.
Now, this device is for tech novices and is nothing compared to wired smart switches. But we don’t have that option at the moment. There are timers you can set up that turn the lights on and off on a schedule, which is great if you want to fake out anyone thinking of trying to get in your home while you are away.
You can also set the lights to turn on when you come into range. Never walk into a dark apartment again.
It is powered by AA batteries and uses a small motor to flip the switch on and off when prompted.
The Switchmate literally takes seconds to install. You place it over the switch you want to automate and it uses magnets to stay in place. It is a little bulky but allows you to control the light through your phone.
It does have its limitations, like only working through bluetooth at the moment, but they ares till fairly new and should be adding features hopefully soon.
Again, it is not a perfect solution and lacks in a few areas, but its the best we got going at the moment for those lights that just aren’t built for smart bulbs.
Other Random Smart Tech
There are a lot of other smart devices you can bring into your apartment.
Smart Pet Feeders. Furbabies at home? Smart pet feeders allow you to automate, schedule and portion your pets eating and feeding. Some are outfitted with cameras that allow you to get some face time with your pet while you’re away from home. One of the top pet feeders out is by Arf Pets.
Smart A/C Units. Not all apartments have central heating or cooling. For those that don’t who want some more control over the temperature of their home, a smart A/C unit is exactly what you need. These can even help you save a few bucks on your cooling bill a year. A top model out right now is the Frigidaire.
Smart Washer and Dryers. These fit into the category of no wiring but are a bit pricey. My apartment came with a washer and dryer but I could easily ask them to remove them so I could bring my own. You can read more about smart washer and dryers here.
Smart shower heads. If you are looking to cut down on your water bill or working towards being more conscientious of your water consumption, smart shower heads are for you. Some offer more connected features like being able to take phone calls while in the shower and streaming music.
My favorite smartish shower head, the Waterhawk, cuts down your water bill and lets you know water temperature and gallons of water used while showering. No real connected features, just cool to have and know.
Devices That Would be Nice But Tough to Add to an Apartment
Garage Door Openers
A lot of us renters do not have our own personal garages. Most of us share a parking lot or have a huge community garage that we share with our neighbors.
If you are fortunate enough to have your own garage, a smart garage door opener is a solid investment. It does require that you already have a motorized garage door but does not require any extra wiring, a win for us renters.
Now, smart openers like MyQ by Chamberlain do not work natively with Alexa, and for good reason. You can read more about that here. They do allow you to add some really convenient automation to your home, rental or not.
Geofencing allows you to automatically open the garage when in range. One of many really great features of smart garages.
Smart thermostats have really been increasing in popularity and rightfully so. They are extremely convenient and really help monitor the temperature and energy consumption of your home heating and cooling.
The only thing is they do require wiring. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that 98% of renters will not allow this. But for those who may have that luxury, definitely check out the Nest or Ecobee4!
A lot of landlords are trying to be more attractive to renters so maybe bringing up the value of smart thermostats might tempt them to install one for you. Worth a shot, right?
This is another one of those smart devices most of us renters won’t be able to take advantage of as it does require some wiring. I don’t even think I have a doorbell in my apartment now.
Ring is coming out with a battery powered doorbell that attaches to your peephole and allows all the same features. The Ring Doorview Cam is scheduled to come out sometime in 2019. When it does, we will tell you all about it! Until that does come out, video doorbells are just out of reach for the majority of us renters.